Afghan Ethnic Dolls

September 30, 2007.

I came across a rather interesting website while on internet foot-patrol. Well, maybe the content may not interest you. But Afghanistanica can not be all things to all people.

The site is AfghanEthnicDolls.com and is a project by Zareen Noory of California. She has dolls in various costumes of seven different ethnic groups. Once again I put my pro-Nuristani bias on display with this example below:

The artist, Zareen Noory, of course gives part of the proceeds to charity and has plans to set up an embroidery workshop in Afghanistan. Zareen offers porcelain, vinyl and cloth dolls for sale on her site.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. Burqa doll!

Tom Cruise Invades Afghanistan

September 28, 2007.

…..from his air-conditioned office in DC. Or is Tommy from Kentucky invading Pakistan? It’s sort of hard to tell from the trailer below.

Some explanation: New movie titled Lions for Lambs about Afghanistan and other stuff. Starring Tom Cruise as a Senator, Robert Redford as a university professor (Redford is probably not good-looking enough to play a college professor, but I’ll make an allowance since he is a good actor), Meryl Streep as a journalist, and Michael Pena and Derek Luke as US Army Rangers.

Movie studio propaganda:

Two determined students at a West Coast University, Arian and Ernest, follow the inspiration of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley, and attempt to do something important with their lives. But when the two make the bold decision to join the battle in Afghanistan, Malley is both moved and distraught. Now, as Arian and Ernest fight for survival in the field, they become the string that binds together two disparate stories on opposite sides of America. In California, an anguished Dr. Malley attempts to reach a privileged but disaffected student, who is the very opposite of Arian and Ernest. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C. the charismatic Presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving, is about to give a bombshell story to a probing TV journalist that may affect Arian and Ernest’s fates. As arguments, memories and bullets fly, the three stories are woven ever more tightly together, revealing how each of these Americans has a profound impact on each other–and the world.

Coming to American movie theaters on November 9.

Afghanistan’s “Newest” Ethnic Group, Rashid Dostum And... My Ferrari

September 27, 2007.

OK, Afghanistan has no more room for new ethnic groups. So this is the last one (for this month at least):

Turkologist Ingeborg Baldauf, who has been working on the folklore, local religion and recent history of Northern Afghanistan since the late 1970s, tracked “them” down and wrote a spiffy little article. Here is the summary:

On Turkological ground, the existence of “small groups of Khorassanian Turkic speakers along the Amu Darya” had been postulated years ago. Field research in Andkhoy, the northwestern most town of Afghanistan, seems to have yielded proof of this assumption: The Dayı / Kārgıl of the Andkhoy oasis in fact speak a dialect that comes close to Khorassanian Turkic. This paper introduces local knowledge about their historical background, religious and linguistic affiliation, and social and professional attribution, all of which are important elements in the shaping of personal and collective identities.

I was really excited (seriously) at the bottom of page 139 when I thought for a second that Rashid Dostum (who is from the town of Khoja Dukku) might be identified as a Dayi:

As an ethnonym, Dāyı is also known in Khoja Dukku, a district and small town off the road from Andkhoy to Shibirghān, where a clan (xānawāda) lives whose members are referred to as Dāyihāyi Khǒjadükkü. Apparently, they do not share the linguistic or other peculiarities of the Dāyı of Andkhoy. These Dāyı must be left out of consideration here.

Read all about it → The Dayi ~ Kargil of Andkhoy: Language, History and Profession in Local Identity Discourses

I realize identity can be very complex and that the concept of an “ethnic group” is problematic and still contentious. I have, however, come up with an iron-clad definition of ethnicity that would surely be met with rapturous acclaim from 100% of anthropologists and other social scientists. Unfortunately, the definition is in the form of a 4-dimensional computer model that is stored on my laptop that, most unfortunately, I left in the trunk of my Ferrari that, again most unfortunately, is in the garage for repairs. Maybe next time.

Afghanistan’s Wasps and Rocks Want to Kill You

September 26, 2007.

Both of these videos from Afghanistan are amazing. After watching these you will come to fear Afghanistan’s natural hazards.

First up, just when the Germans thought it was safe to go driving in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan….

And is it just me or do Afghanistan’s wasps weigh 1 kilogram each?

Nature-wise, this place is almost as dangerous as British Columbia.

The Poetry of Nadia Anjuman

September 25, 2007.

A couple of years back the 25-year old Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman was beaten to death by her husband (or as he claims, she took her own life after he beat her). She had just recently published her first volume of poetry: Smoke-Veined Flower. And now, thanks to Afghanwire.com, the volume is available online in English. Visit nadia.afghanwire.org to read her poems.

Totally out of context quote #18

September 24, 2007.

“It has been said that fences make for great neighbors. In Afghanistan, they have taken the concept a step further. Walls are as much a part of this culture as Islam and burqas. There are walls around homes. There are walls around villages. There are walls around entire towns and cities. [...]

I also can’t help but think how big a role walls play in the mindset of Afghans. [But] All the walls have not kept out invaders. The barriers have not repelled violence. Poverty has not known any restrictions. Walls have not limited pain.

Walls are really a false sense of security for most Afghans. Real protection comes from a government that is strong enough to protect its people and give them the economic security necessary to provide for themselves. Real security comes from caring about and helping those who are on the other side of the wall, not in fearing them or worrying about their differences.

Afghans will find peace and freedom not in the walls without but with the hearts within.”

Context: Michael Tomberlin, a reporter for an The Birmingham News and a Major in the Alabama Army National Guard, discusses walls in Afghan culture on his blog. Major Tomberlin offers some other interesting commentary on Afghan culture from an Alabama perspective in two other blog posts worth reading; Things I’ve Learned and Smilers and Non-smilers.

Tintin in Afghanistan

September 22, 2007.

If you do not know who Tintin is then you are probably an American. What you need to know is that over 200 million Tintin books have been sold. And for good reason. I don’t have the time to go into it.

Unfortunately, the Belgian author Georges Remi died in the early 1980s and The Adventures of Tintin were no more. But the original graphic novels inspired countless parodies and pastiches.

One of the better known pastiches (a true to the original imitation) was La Menace Des Steppes by Sakharine. In this adventure, Tintin and Captain Haddock travel to Afghanistan and give the Soviets a well-deserved thrashing.

It is of course quite fitting since the first Tintin book, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929), finds Tintin giving the Bolsheviks a beat down. Many criticized the book for portraying the Soviet Union as a violent paranoid authoritarian state when in fact it was, as all communist fellow travelers in the West knew, a paradise.

I would gladly write a new contemporary pastiche for Tintin in Afghanistan. However, the artwork, modest as it is, is beyond my abilities. Though I must say I do like this pastiche cover below. Unfortunately, there is no book to go along with the cover. I found this cover on a t-shirt for sale on ebay.

On the subject of fake Tintin book covers, the Iranian-American graphic artist Zartosht Soltani made this amusing and/or offensive cover about five years back. It’s probably one of the best parody covers I have seen.

And by the way, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings director) are producing a photo-realistic CGI Tintin film, slated for release in 2009 or 2010.

Who’s Watching Afghanistan?

September 20, 2007.

I know Canadians regularly watch news items that focus on the Canadian effort in southern Afghanistan. And the Brits still have time for Afghanistan even with a British presence in Iraq. I can’t speak to the amount of attention that Afghanistan gets on the other side of the English Channel, but I do know what I see in America. It does not amount to much.

So who is really interested? Aside from Americans of Afghan heritage and the occasional weirdo who studies Afghanistan, it seems that the family of troops deployed to Afghanistan are also concerned.

As the girl said:

“It makes me mad because there are people in Afghanistan and no one ever talks about them.”

So that’s indicative of the amount of attention lavished on Afghanistan by the media; a news station in OKC interviewing a confused 18-year old who wonders why no one in the media seems concerned about the war her husband is deployed to.

Joy, Peace and Happiness in Northern Afghanistan

September 18, 2007.

It’s a good thing that all the conflict in southern Afghanistan is balanced by the idyllic harmony in northern Afghanistan. For an example of how nice northern Afghanistan is, let’s look at Takhar Province , which borders Tajikistan.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting just published an article on the “peace” in a recent article subtitled “For residents of the northern province of Takhar, there are worse things than the Taliban.” Apparently, the things that are worse than the Taliban are their local armed commanders and their elected representative. Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi reports:

Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word of her.

Commander Piram Qul kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother,” he said. “I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul.”

According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local militia commanders in the province.

“The government is lying when it says it’s in control of the country,” he said bitterly. “There is no government here, just local commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the Taleban.”

“I have been threatened with death six times by these local commanders,” said Habib. “You can go to every office, from the lowliest civil servant right up to the governor, but they cannot act against the commanders because they are scared of them. We don’t know where to turn.”

Not satisfied to victimize women only, the local commander has turned to little boys:

One man, 31 years old, held pictures of his two sons, aged eight and six. He wept as he told his story.

“Commander Piram Qul took my two sons from my home last year. He killed them, put their bodies in a sack and dumped them in the river,” he said , tears pouring down his cheeks. He claimed that the murders were retribution for his own continuing protests against local warlords.

“Piram Qul told me when he took my sons, ‘This is your punishment for your propaganda against the commanders,” he said. “I went everywhere. I wanted justice. I wanted to avenge the murder. But everyone told me just to forget it. No one listened to me.”

Piram Qul, a member of parliament and “former” commander of Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Jamiat-i Islami, replied to the charges:

“That is a complete lie,” he told IWPR. “These accusations are false. The people who are accusing me are either Taleban or have connections to the Taleban. They are just trying to cause a rift between the central government and the former commanders. They are trying to provoke the mujaheddin to act against the government, and to weaken the regime.”

That’s right, Piram Qul is a brave Mujahid fighting against the Taliban and their local sympathizers, who, inexplicably, are ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. Here’s a picture from RAWA of one of the ethnic Uzbek Taliban supporters who was dumped in a river:

According to RAWA, after a large group of locals demonstrated, some arrests were made. But the suspects were quickly released after they sat around and had tea with their law enforcement and judicial homeboys. According to IWPR, no one in the local government seems interested in helping victims pursue charges against the local commanders:

Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a local commander.

“I was hospitalised for one and a half months,” she said. “I went to the district governor’s office, but no one listened to me. Those who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, ‘There is no law that can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it.’”

According to Mohammad Zafari of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, victims have no good options:

“Five months ago, the son of one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy in Bangee district,” he said. “The child was injured, with a perforated bowel. But when the child’s father tried to sue the commander, he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the whole matter was decided in his favour.”

There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, “It is a disaster here.”

Apparently Mohammad Zafari is a Taliban sympathizer too. Can’t he see that all these brave Mujahideen commanders are preserving peace in northern Afghanistan by fighting the hordes of Taliban sympathizers?

I remember a story about some low-rent village mullah who supposedly started his rise to power by killing a local commander who was fond of raping the locals. He started some sort of group. What was it called? Oh yeah, I remember. It was called the “Taliban.”

Afghanistan’s Online Ethnic War

September 17, 2007.

Online ethnic warfare reached new heights early last year when South Korean online gamers carried out an online massacre of Chinese farmers (crazy but true). And then a few weeks ago internet ethnic clashes reached an absurd new level when Chinese kung-fu monks threatened to sue an internet troll (possibly Japanese) who announced that a Japanese ninja showed up at a Shaolin temple and thrashed the Chinese martial arts monks in unarmed combat. Reuters reports:

“The so-called defeat is purely fabricated, and we demand the Internet user to apologise to the whole nation for the wrongs he or she did,” the Beijing News said, citing a notice announced by a lawyer for the Shaolin monks. “It is not only extremely irresponsible behaviour with respect to the Shaolin temple and its monks, but also to the whole martial art and Chinese nation,” it quoted the monks as saying.

So how about Afghanistan? How are online relations between the angry kids? I’ll confine this qualitative survey to those Afghans in the West and in Pakistan who prefer to insult each other en anglais (French makes me sound witty and cosmopolitan, huh?). Let’s take a look at the available English language sources: I’ll start with Youtube, the peaceful meeting place of the youth.

The first interesting video I found was titled: “F**k immigrants. Long live the Original Afghans.” Very subtle! The theory in operation here is that Pashtuns are the original people of Afghanistan and everyone else is an ethnic intruder. One of the commenters remarked: “I hate Hazaras.” The funny thing is that the author of the vid is very likely an immigrant in some other country.

A commenter elsewhere on Youtube remarked:

Pashtuns are the ones who came to Khorasan. They did not build Kabul, Herat or Mazar. They came there and now they are trying to steal it and claim their own. Typical for savages.

A Pashtun commenter then had this to say:

..savage and honorless tajik people got allways some noncense crap they come whit, did ur mother or sister build afghanistan, bache khar…tajike ghool

Son of a donkey? The insults are just like one would imagine.

Pashtuns receive some payback in a video titled: “Pashtun Taliban Homos performing Attan dance in Paktia.” The video is actually an old (and interesting) film clip of dancing somewhere near the Durand Line. The video was posted by a user named “nuristaniguy.” It’s nice to see such a small minority group getting in on the online bigotry.

The video inspires this comment:

Look at this video, your Pakhtoon Gays. ahahahahh And its a fact that Kandahar is the Gay Capital in the world. ahahahah Did you forget, that to be ‘Kooni’ is a big Gunnah?? But you Pakhtoon Kafirs are sooo Stupid. Look: pakhtoons get every day f**ked by americans and Punjabis. ahahaha khar kos kooniah

[note: Pakhtoon=Pashtun, Kooni=faggot, khar=donkey, gunnah=sin, kafir=infidel]

Again Pashtuns get bashed in this comment:

Pashtoons are the MINORITY you stupid Kochi. go back to your cave and leave afghanistan for civilized people Pashtoons were brought as SLAVES from Pakistan by Arians/Greeks and today they are Taliban faggots lol

This view of Pashtuns as homosexual nomadic cave-dweller slaves brought by the Greeks from the east is, in my humble opinion, somewhat problematic.

And now back to the Hazaras, where the slurs usually end up with the slur bin-i puchuq (flat nose):

OH MY GOD lollll These hazaras talking about beauty hahaha u got no nose no eyes… deformed people hahah

…who are the Hazara ? Who do they feel closest to ? Iranians, Afghans, Mongols, Turks, or Apes ?

Even the Iranians get into the Hazara-bashing:

Too much Hazaran people in Mahshad. Go back to Afghanistan, Iran is not ur place. Go back to estupid Afghanistan and kell each other.

I should concede that some commenters online plead for sanity:

We are all Afghans and we stand United against assholes like u. No matter what ethnic group we are from we might have arguments with each other but that’s just normal in a family. Pashtoon, Tajik, Hazara, Uzback and so on are all members of one family.

However, they are usually in the minority (and often have female or feminine sounding user names). They are usually drowned out by these slightly angry people’s comments:

  • pashton are all savages and barbarian. they even sell their wives. no other ppl in any part of the world act dishonorablly like this.
  • F**k u all pakis bitchsssssssssssss Long Life Hazara and Hazaristan !!
  • thank god im tajik i dont wanna be hazara and especially not stinky pashtun go rot in hell ugly creatures.. PersianTajik4Life
  • afghanistan is the home land for pashtuns only, dirty hazaras go back to monglolia, tajik skanks, go and lick ur presidents ass in tajikistan, wot the f**k take the uzbeks wid u as well, afghanistan = son of saul, home land for the pashtuns only, get the f**k out of our country!!!!!!

Well enough of Youtube. How about the blogosphere? Well, in response to Fahim Khairy’s not too subtle analysis of Hazara-Kuchi relations titled “Ethno-fascists under the pretense of torch bearers of democracy in Afghanistan,” a commenter said this:

These Kuchis should get banned from Afghanistan like Pakistan did in 1948. We have to make the same thing. Kuchis, as main supporter of talibanism and facism should get challenge today. They should get hunt by NA and NATO-Troups. All their goods should go to the country´s economic. One day, maybe not today or tomorrow but one day we will send this apes to hell.

A counter-commenter then responded:

Hazara people in central mountains of Afghanistan actually living in caves. It is crazy, these Hazaras give all Afghans a bad name by living in caves like rats. Now, since this blogger is a Shia Hazara, why would we wanna listen to what a rat has to say about the elite Pashtuns of Afghanistan who are making their country become modernized as the west? It appears that rats are jealous of the elites (Pashtuns). Another thing is this, Hazaras (chinese looking, with big round flat faces) are unattractive people to everyone, meaning no girl wants to date or marry a Hazara because they are considered the ugly people of Afghanistan, similar as the Mongolians, who are considered one of the ugliest people world wide. Pashtuns are very attractive people, every Hazara girl wants to marry a Pashtun so that their children are born good looking as Pashtuns. This is the primary reason why Hazaras hate Pashtuns. A person who is born ugly and is full of hate, racism, and jealousy is the lowest person you can imagine. Look at Afghanistan as a whole, which is the poorest and least developed among the rest of the nations in the world. In this poorest and least developed country of Afghanistan, there comes these Hazara people who are the ugliest, poorest, and evil people of all….means Hazaras are ranked as the lowest people on earth. Pashtuns are laughing at thess suckers Hazaras, who think they are in charge of the country, when in reality Hazaras are the cart pushers in every city of Afghanistan.

And then in response to the above:

You sucker better go to Afghanistan and live with your sucking-Pashtoon tribal laws than live in a modern worold. You supremacist Pashtoons deserve a good share of NatO bombs on your house….like your people are expericing in Afghanista. Wow, what a joy it is to hear news about NATO bombs being dropped on Pashtoons in Afghanistan. Wow, what a joy is it….Life has never been so joyfull to me.

A familiar commenter who likely represents the majority opinion of Afghan readers (but importantly the minority opinion of commenters) says this in response:

I just want to take issue with Parsistani’s recommendations on sending these “apes to hell.” Like all other people of Afghanistan, Kuchis are part of the bona fide citizenry of this country. Suggesting to eliminate them or even their way of life is as discriminatory and distasteful as suggesting to eliminate all Hazaras or Tajiks et al.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the shrill and angry people are much more likely to post a comment than the reasonable and compassionate.

How about at a higher intellectual level? Commenters in response to a blog post by Barnett Rubin had better grammar and were somewhat more polite (although some comments were deleted. I assume those were of Youtube quality). But still, the ethnic blame-game still persists.

How about on forums where there is a moderator? Sample this from an afghanforums.com commenter who calls himself a Farsiwan (good luck with using that identity for ethnoreligious political mobilization!)

You be supprised to find that Tajiks just make up less then 5% of the nation and they came from Bokara/Samarkand. During 1920 there were 600,000 of been recorded entering Afghanistan (NOW THEY ARE AFGHANIZED) But idiot Russians intentionally or unintentionally added another 25% Darians as part of them. Tajiks are Turkic people of PArsi speakers of Central Asia. They are mixed Mongolid/Turkic/Aryanic (Afghan/Iranian) and Arabs. They are not different then their Uzbek brothers, and their Genetic makeup is almost same as Hazaras. In fact they look Uzbek and sometimes Afghan (After all Southern Tajikistan was part of Afghanistan and native of that region still carry their Afghan looks.

We admit there are Tajikistanis among us and in fact Rabani accepted another 500,000 of them during Tajik civil war of Tajikistan and those people were given Afghan passports and in 2001 everyone living in Afghanistan (Including Arabs/Chachis/Uzbeks/Kazaks/Tajiks) were given Afghan passport saying “AFGHAN” where as it used to be “TAjikistani/Tajik/Uzbekistani/Uzbek) and that’s how the new national antum is designed for everyone.

BELIEVE me I as a Farsiwan been to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and other nations and I know how Afghan looks like and how they are recognized. For those who say Farsiwans and Tajiks are same LOL then you are far lost into the dark.

Let the one man Farsiwan versus Tajik War begin [sic!] (Note: Farsiwan are Shia).

Some users do get banned from afghanforums.com. But you have to be quite overt to get kicked out. It’s better, but still sad.

Anyways, all of this is no different from the average young internet bigot in Europe or America (they’re just like us! How cute!). This sort of online rhetoric is quite common to all people. But the problem is that Afghanistan is in about year 30 of war. Fostering hatred online is probably not the best idea given recent history. But still it seems some young online Afghans want to start another full-scale civil war along even tighter ethnic lines than before (a war which of course they will decline to directly participate in).

Of course you will find civil exchanges online among Afghans, but unfortunately you may have to wade through some of the above trash to find it. Good luck.

Totally out of context quote #17

September 16, 2007.

Counterinsurgency is a strange game. I’ve had chai, nan (flat bread,) and cheese with Taliban members; everyone acting like we actually are civil to each other. I’ve had chai with minor officials who were trying to talk me out of sending a guy who had senior Taliban leaders in his house within an hour of our raid to detention so he could be questioned. [….]

I’ve sat in Shuras as the village elders pled their case, insisting that they hadn’t seen any Taliban in months, only to have a citizen on the outer reaches of the circle stand up and throw the “bullshit flag,” recounting a recent event. That changed the song… it became, “What are we to do? They will kill us if we tell you anything about them.”

Context: An American police mentor, who is alone with an Afghan National Police team in Eastern Afghanistan, writes in his blog about what you do when you are the only American for miles around in Taliban country.

Read the whole: billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com/2007/08/breather-from-valley.html.

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